Mental illness is a curse as it has many side-effects and is an alarming concern for both employers and employees.
The world around us is truly troubled with so many problems to solve and issues to look into. We sure are living the age of wars with every element of our lives and this condition never seems to change, making us the obvious victims of bad destiny. The first and the most challenging problem is undoubtedly the coronavirus pandemic which has torn the linen of our life in bits and pieces cruelly. The world today is facing a mammoth issue in the form of autism, intellectual disabilities like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, psychosis, or dementia which are the various forms of mental illnesses.
According to an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illnesses make about 15% of the total disease conditions around the world. WHO has marked India as the world’s ‘most depressive country’. In between the years 1990 and 2017, one in seven people of India have suffered from mental illnesses ranging from milder conditions of depression, anxiety to severe conditions like schizophrenia. According to a survey, 16 million Americans are affected by depression every year. Fifty percent of people with depression are untreated and the organizations have had to suffer 44$ billion due to workplace depression. And $1 billion of investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 billion in better health and work performance. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that India is under the control of a mental health epidemic.
Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact, which can be seen in the loss of productivity costing a whopping US $ 1 trillion in the global economy. According to a survey, globally an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression and mental anxiety.
What is mental health?
Mental health means the cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being of a person. It is about the thought process of people, how they feel and behave. Mental health can affect daily life, relationships, and physical health. It is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his/her community. According to WHO, mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders. It is about not only avoiding active conditions but also looking after regular wellness and happiness. In 2017, 11.2 million adults in the U.S or about 4.5% of adults had mental issues.
Risk factors for mental health conditions
About every person is under the risk of developing a mental disorder irrespective of their age, sex, income, or living status. In the U.S, mental disorders are one of the leading causes of disability. A person’s mental health is affected and shaped by social and financial circumstances, biological factors, and lifestyle choices. Most of the people with mental health disorders have more than one condition at a time. A good mental health depends on a delicate balance of factors and several elements of life and the world at large work together to contribute to any kind of disorder. Some of these factors may contribute to mental health issues: —-
- Continuous social and economic pressures-Having limited financial resources or coming from marginalized strata of society can also increase the risk of mental health disorders along with socio-economic conditions, the occupational conditions, a person’s level of social involvement, education, and quality of lifestyle.
- Biological factors-The genetic history can increase the likelihood of mental health conditions. Having a gene with links to a mental health disorder like depression or schizophrenia does not guarantee that a condition will surely develop. Some mental health conditions like stress, depression, and anxiety may also develop due to underlying, life-changing physical health problems like cancer, diabetes or unexpected events or accidents in life, etc.
Common mental health disorders
The most common mental health disorders are as follows:-
- Anxiety disorders-Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness. People with these conditions have severe fear or anxiety relating to certain objects or situations. Examples of anxiety disorders include -a. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It is defined as a disproportionate worry that disrupts everyday living. Some physical symptoms of anxiety disorders are—1. Restlessness 2.Fatigue 3.Tense muscles 4.Interrrupted sleep
They may experience excessive anxiety about having to deal with everyday situations that don’t even present anything unusual or directly dangerous like homely chores or keeping appointments. A person with GAD may feel anxiety with no trigger at all.
b. Panic disorders—People with a panic disorder experience regular panic attacks involving sudden terror or a sense of imminent disaster or death.
c. Phobias—There are different types of phobias ranging from simple and social to severe types. Phobias are deeply personal and doctors too may not know every type.
d. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) —People with OCD have obsessions and compulsions. They may experience constant, stressful thoughts and a powerful urge to perform repetitive acts like hand washing.
e. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) —PTSD can occur after a person experiences or witnesses a deeply stressful or traumatic event. During this type of event, the person thinks that their life or of others are in danger. They may feel afraid or that they have no control over what is happening.
2. Mood disorders-There are 2 kinds of mood disorders, affective, or depressive disorders. People suffering from these conditions have changes in the mood, involving mania which is a period of high energy and elation or depression.
3.Major depression-A person with this condition suffers from constant low mood swings and loss of interest in activities and events that he/she previously enjoyed. They may feel sadness for long periods.
4.Bipolar Disorder-A person with this condition has unusual changes in his mood, energy, and activity levels. Here periods of high mood are called Manic phases while those of low mood are called Depressive phases.
5.Schizophrenia disorders– It is a highly complex condition and mental health authorities are still trying to know whether it is a single disorder or a group of related illnesses. The signs of schizophrenia develop typically between the ages of 16 and 30 years. The individual will have fragmented thoughts and they may find it hard to process information. It has positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include delusions, thought disorders, hallucinations. The negative symptoms include withdrawal, lack of motivation, and an inappropriate mood.
Early signs of depression
There is no physical test or scan to certify that a person has developed a mental illness. But people can relate to these possible signs of a mental disorder:-
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and colleagues
- Avoidance of activities that the person earlier normally enjoyed
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Feeling hopeless
- Having low energy consistently
- Using mood-altering substances including alcohol and nicotine more frequently
- Displaying negative emotions
- Staying confused
- Being unable to complete daily tasks such as getting to work or cooking a meal
- Having persistent thoughts or memories that reappear regularly
- Thinking of causing physical harm to self or others
- Hearing voices
- Experiencing delusions
Effects of mental health problems at the workplace
Depression and any other mental health issue may have a significant impact on work performance. It contributes to ‘presenteeism’ or employees at work but not engaged and ‘absenteeism’ or employees missing days of work. It may also adversely impact many areas of employee performance like focus, decision making, time management, completion of physical tasks, social interactions, efficiency issues, and communication. But early detection and effective treatment can lessen the severity and impact of the condition.
Treatment for mental health disorders
There are many methods for managing mental health problems. The treatment is highly individual working for different individuals in different ways. The treatments for the same include -1. Psychotherapy, talking therapies—This treatment takes a psychological approach for treatment. Some examples are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Exposure therapy, and Dialectical behavior therapy. The health personnel called psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists work to understand the root cause of illness and form healthy thought patterns that support everyday living reducing the risk of isolation and self-harm.
- Medication-Some people take prescribed medications like antidepressants, antipsychotic and anxiolytic drugs. These drugs may not cure the illness totally but they help in improving symptoms and leading a normal life.
- Self-help-A person suffering from the illness can be brought in command by making changes in their lifestyle and dietary habits. So some habits like reducing alcohol intake, sleeping more and eating a balanced, nutritious diet, and resolving issues in relationships and dealings of life will help a lot. Then relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yogas, and mindfulness may help considerably in this problem too. Also having a support network by self-help groups or close friends and family will surely help in recovery.
How to take care of mental illnesses at the workplace
- Mental health self-assessment tools must be made available to all the employees.
- Free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional followed by direct feedback must be offered.
- Free health insurance and subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs must be provided.
- Materials like brochures, flyers, and videos must be distributed to all employees helping them know about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and proper treatment measures.
- Seminars or workshops addressing the issues of depression and stress management techniques like mindfulness, breathing exercises, medication to help employees reduce anxiety and stress improving focus and motivation must be conducted.
- Managers must be provided training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression amongst each other and encourage them to seek help from mental health professionals.
- Employees must be given opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
Employers can promote awareness about the importance of mental health and stress management by conducting workplace health promotion programs by combining both mental and physical health interventions.
Employee’s participation to help avoid stress at the workplace
Everyone can contribute in their own ways to deal with the demon of mental illness be it the employers, family members of the employees, or the employees themselves. Employees can help in these ways:-
1. They can encourage the employers to offer mental health and stress management education and meeting their needs and interests.
- Participate in employer-sponsored programs and activities to learn skills and be an empowered individual ready to make a difference to the current scenario.
- Serve as dedicated wellness champions and participate in trainings on topics like financial planning and other topics like how to manage unacceptable behaviors and attitudes at the workplace to help others when required.
- Share some personal experiences with others to help reduce stigma. Be open-minded about the experiences and feelings of colleagues. Respond with empathy, showing peer support, and be encouraging enough.
- Adopt behaviors that promote stress management and mental health.
- Eat healthy, balanced meals, do regular exercise, and get proper sleep of 7 to 8 hours per day.
- Take part in activities promoting stress management and relaxation like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and tai chi.
- Build, manage, and nurture real-life, face-to-face social connections and networks.
- Take out time to reflect and remember positive experiences, share them with others needing some motivation, and make the environment lighter, happier, and more positive.
- Set and work towards personal, wellness, and work-related goals and ask for help, give help too when needed to peers, and the ones in need of it.
Tips for employers
The employers should educate employees and managers about mental health conditions including depression and encourage employees to seek help when needed. In our country, mental health remains a taboo topic so supervisors and employees should be trained on how to start a conversation if they are concerned about an employee. Mental health information must be integrated into all health communication strategies. Then as a way of spreading awareness content about depression must be included in company newsletters, on the intranet, and other regular employee communication platforms. The Centre for Workplace Mental Health and a national employer coalition and Employers Health created Right Direction, an initiative that brings a discussion forum on depression out in the open and encourages employees to seek help when needed. This turn-key initiative gives employers with tools to raise awareness on depression in the workplace and it’s consequent effect on productivity, promote early recognition of symptoms, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. With the help of Right Direction, employers have access to a library of customizable high impact tools and resources. These materials are accessed by thousands of employers addressing the issue of workplace mental health. The more employers raise the issue of mental health the more it will come under control.
The symptoms of depression are deep feelings of extreme sadness, difficulty concentration, and slowed thoughts, forgetfulness, feelings of worthfulness or guilt, loss of energy or increased fatigue, irritation, anger, weight or appetite changes. Depression appears like withdrawal from team, isolation, indifference, putting things off, missed deadlines, accidents, seems scattered, absentmindedness, procrastination, indecisiveness, slowed productivity, fatigue all day, lack of confidence and motivation, strained relationships and frequent mood changes.
When mental issues are effectively addressed in the workplace it helps to lower total medical costs, increase productivity, lower absenteeism, decreased disability costs.
Mental health issues can be resolved by timely intervention, awareness about the issue, availability of professional help, and adequate policies. So it’s very important to encourage people suffering from mental illness to come out of their shells, talk about it freely, encourage others to do so too, and give them the confidence that they too deserve a life of dignity and normalcy like others. This initiative will need a collaborative public-private-social partnership to bring considerable changes but it needs to be done. We need to give mental illness issues a proper focus and the patients suffering from it a concerned shoulder to lean on.